What’s Your Climate Career Ambition?

by Diana Drake

Climate action is a mindset – and one that feels increasingly critical on a global scale.

At the recent virtual Earth Day Summit, the U.S. committed to cutting emissions by half by the end of the decade and integrating climate change into the country’s national security and foreign policy. Other countries deepened their climate goals, as well, in what can only be described as intense, global, climate ambition.

Inside Climate Tech

That climate ambition extends to Generation Z, as you think about how climate change fits into your lives. The rising levels of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping greenhouse gases that are damaging the planet not only spark activism, but also a desire to go to work on creating sustainable solutions.

“I genuinely believe climate change is the challenge of the century,” says Andrew Yu, a sophomore at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania. “As a member of Generation Z…it’s up to us to have a say in this and an actual goal.”

Andrew Yu, co-founder of Penn Climate Ventures.

Yu co-founded Penn Climate Ventures, a new student organization at Penn that wants to build a career pipeline in climate tech that is as robust as career pipelines for finance or consulting. In other words, he wants more people to follow a climate-related career path, with an emphasis on new and transformational innovations.

“The broader definition of climate careers is that you can be an environmental scientist, you can work in policy, you can be doing lab research and creating cool innovations. You can be a business person and try to scale those innovations. You can work in marketing and try to change consumer behavior. You can be an educator and try to teach the importance of climate to students and to the next generation. You can invest in climate-forward companies as an investor. Climate careers are very, very broad,” notes Yu. “A lot of people are interested in environmental science and studies, and they are gaining knowledge about the environment. But I think we’re at a point where knowing that the world is spiraling out of control is not all that we can be doing. We need to take action to mitigate that or help us adapt as the world continues to change. That’s where climate tech enters the space.”

“There will be a space to innovate in climate no matter where you go.” — Andrew Yu, Co-founder, Penn Climate Ventures

Climate tech involves building interesting innovations that can reduce emissions or draw down emissions by collecting carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases from the air. It is also about creating a more efficient grid, electrifying society as a whole, including cars and planes. “There is a lot to be done to make most aspects of business and daily life more sustainable. A lot of that requires some interesting innovations to get there,” says Yu.

A group of Penn and Wharton students recently won second place in Penn Climate Ventures’ first student climate startup competition. The group’s climate-tech project, Folia, is targeting leftover malt from beer production to be used as animal feed and even in bread products. The main goal: diverting greenhouse gas-generating waste away from landfills by connecting food waste producers with companies that can use the byproducts.

‘Cleaner and More Sustainable’

Dennis Woodside, president of Impossible Foods, a Silicon Valley-based company that produces plant-based substitutes for meat products, made a virtual appearance at Penn Climate Ventures’ event to provide insight into his business and the broader sector of climate tech. Impossible Foods’ mission – to eliminate the need for any animal-based proteins – is in large part climate-driven. The animal agriculture industry accounts for 17% of total greenhouse gas emissions (see related KWHS Stories tab).

“As we get closer and closer to an environmental crisis, the world is going to wake up,” said Woodside, who was previously chief operating officer of Dropbox and began his career with Google. His best advice for a generation that wants to make a difference through climate careers and climate tech: seek out learning opportunities and observe the world around you.

“A lot of life is just showing up and hearing an idea that you say, maybe I’m not going to act on that now but in three years you never know what kind of connection you’ll make,” said Woodside. “When I was at Stanford [University], there were people coming on campus all the time. You just absorb ideas and don’t quite know how those ideas are going to bounce around in your head, and someday something comes along that just makes sense.”

He also sees incredible opportunity for climate-tech innovation related to the food industry, nuclear power, as well as cleaning the power that the world currently generates. “If you look around, so many areas are going to have to change where there is an incumbent industry that is going to have to get disrupted by something cleaner and more sustainable,” he said. “I would look there and pay attention.”

Yu, who plans to start his own climate tech company this summer with a group of friends from high school, has thought deeply about his personal mission to champion climate careers.

“On one side, you need to build skills and on the other side you need to know about the problem you want to solve,” says Yu, who is also pursuing his interest in data science, which he hopes to apply to his work around climate change. “Explore all the problems that plague the world. If you’re interested in climate change, think about which issues you want to solve. Do you want to help in the energy transition? Do you want to help combat food waste? Do you want to push the world into a more circular economy and combat plastic waste? A lot of stuff needs to be done.”

And becoming a climate-tech entrepreneur is not the only onramp to making a difference. Many existing public and private businesses, like Impossible Foods and Tesla, are climate-focused, or need to strengthen their sensitivity toward climate issues with a little help from Gen Z.

“For most businesses to survive at the end of the century, they’re all going to have to be climate forward in some way. There will be a space to innovate in climate no matter where you go,” suggests Yu. “Energy and agriculture need a lot of work because most emissions come from those two sectors. For longer term, you can do whatever you want, just make sure you have climate in mind.”

Related Links

Conversation Starters

Do you plan to go into a climate career? How are you preparing? Share your story in the comment section of this article.

What is climate tech?

Why are Dennis Woodside and Impossible Foods part of a discussion on climate careers? How does this business relate to climate action? Use the Related KWHS Stories tab for more details.

6 comments on “What’s Your Climate Career Ambition?

  1. With gen-z, climate change is at greater heights than ever before due to social media and awareness being spread through education as well. I also believe that innovation is also climbing with the introduction of new technologies that make it easier for us to solve everyday conflicts as well as larger, global problems such as climate change. Additionally, the diversity in the methods of spreading awareness about climate change and directly participating in reducing global warming has created an environment where many businesses and people can help. Car companies are introducing hybrid and all electric models and state and federal governments are pairing up with them to offer rebates when purchasing one. Tesla offers a rebate of around $2000 dollars on all cars with a base price of under $42,000, giving incentives for consumers to purchase their vehicles, therefore reducing their carbon footprint. Tech giants such as Apple and Google have pledged to plant forests and use cleaner renewable energy to compensate for their emissions. Additionally, Amazon and Google sell climate tech such as turbines and solar panels to assist others in moving towards reduced carbon emissions. It is interesting to see how companies are starting to move towards eco-friendly methods by using their technology to have an impact on a world in which they were a part of global warming themselves.

  2. According to my parents and apartment super, climate change was not a major issue for Generation X; Gen. X deemed it as a waste of Generation Z’s time and suggested that people should focus on something more useful. I would like to thank Andrew Yu for emphasizing the issue of global warming and tech. His comments, such as pointing out how there are many opportunities to technologically innovate the environment, cause the reader to reflect on their climate change ambitions. Think about the smell of the air, the noise you hear, the scenery before you. What can you do to improve the natural life around you? Indeed, we are in an advanced world with abundant artificial intelligence, certainly we will be able to utilize technology to enhance the health of our Earth.

  3. I was already familiar with the idea that the environmental concerns of the modern-world required addressing. From the melting of polar ice caps, increasing global temperatures, and rapid pollution of metropolitan hubs across the planet, the situation looks bleak. Ever since the arrival of the Industrial Revolution, and the accompanying advent of a host of technological innovations aimed at increasing production/qualities of life, we have lost sight of the toll it takes on our shared habitat.
    However, the rhetoric and the need for innovation highlighted within the article inspired me to develop a better understanding of the topic, founded on empirical research. I discovered that the price of pollution and the grim reality it constitutes had already risen to the forefront of national concern within the United States and abroad. In fact, current projections by OECD indicated that in order to meet the near 80% increase in energy demand by 2050, there will be a 50% increase in the emission of greenhouse gases. Such a phenomena would have unfathomable consequences on an environment that is already being strained to the largest extent in human history. Therefore, it has become essential to find a solution aimed at solving the climate crisis of our time.
    What truly caught my attention regarding this article was the demographic that was tasked with formulating a solution. It wasn’t going to be the thinkers of the enlightenment, the innovators of the 20th century, or even the developers of the factory system. It would be Generation Z. That fact has not only stood prominent within the article for me, but also helped me discover a rejuvenated passion for environmental involvement. Having been a member of local conservation and sustainability groups, such as NJSSC (New Jersey Student Sustainability Coalition), I have participated in environmental preservation. However, the understanding conveyed by the article, that this problem would be the key concern of the following century and of this generation, allowed me to further develop a passion, and more importantly as I hope for others as well, a will to act.
    As mentioned within the article, large corporations do have a responsibility to act with the preservation of the environment in mind. In fact, certain empirical work demonstrates that a mere 100 businesses are currently responsible for 70% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the people and the government to institute environmental-friendly legislation. However, as shown by Andrew Yu (co-founder of Penn Climate Ventures), the time to act on an individual scale is now. Whether that choice to act constitutes the founding of an organization, the spreading of awareness, or even something as simple as learning to recycle, it is valuable. We have been divided by cultural, linguistic, and racial backgrounds for much of our existence, but the issue of climate change is here to pose a detrimental consequence, regardless of such identities. Only through individual action on a global scale, can such a problem be combated. The time to act is now, and every contribution is truly essential.

    • Industrial pollution, deforestation, rising sea levels, and the burning of fossil fuels. The science is self-evident. Human activity is primarily causing the world to warm at a dangerous pace. If we fail to act now, climate change will inevitably affect Earth’s future. Aravind, you continue to expand on this reality when you state, “the situation looks bleak”. You provide clear-cut examples and explanations for this rapid decline of the environment. You mention that businesses wish to enhance the quality of their products but that this process also hurts the environment. After reading this unfortunate news “by 2050, there will be a 50% increase in the emission of greenhouse gases”, I did some research in hopes of finding a positive development of those trends. To my relief and surprise, I found that 80% of major companies are reporting on their shifts towards sustainability. Companies like Ford, Disney, and Nike are just a few examples. Automobile companies are known to be amongst the biggest polluters. However, the Ford Motor Company is changing that record. The company employs sustainable fabrics and fuel efficiency in its vehicles, while 80% of the metal content in Ford Focus and Ford Escape vehicles is recyclable. Disney is determined to employ zero net direct greenhouse gas emission policies in all its facilities and reduce direct GHG emissions by reducing electrical consumption. Nike is also taking ecological initiatives, especially using recyclable materials such as polyester, in their products. These large corporations are starting to showcase climate change initiatives, and that’s a huge step towards securing a safer future.

      I disagree with your comment that Gen Z would be the ones to solve climate change. I firmly believe that the contributions of Gen Z alone are not sufficient. With additional measures from baby boomers, Gen X, and Gen Y(millennials), those generations taking up about 60% of the human population according to STATISTA, we will be in a better position to address environmental issues. We rarely see as many people in the older generations taking the initiative against climate change. The reason being that the older generations are more likely to stick to the measures that have conveniently assisted them over time. Many people are aware of the consequences that climate change shows, however, only until you follow through with the awareness by taking action, then you do something that matters. You do something that makes a difference. I believe that the older gen falls more in the category of being aware of the consequences of climate change but would rather stay in their comfort zone. Many Gen X baby boomers refuse to drive electric cars, not primarily because they don’t understand that it saves the environment, but because gas cars are what they grew up with and trust gas safety more than green. My parents are also part of this Gen X, and although they understand the current climate issues, they do not believe it is a truly urgent situation. By driving gas cars for more than 35 years, my parents have already grown accustomed to this habit and believe it is more secure for their safety on the road to stick with a vehicle that has been part of their whole lives. With about half of the population with this mentality, we won’t formulate any solution until we change this mindset and everyone takes action. The previous generations and Gen Z need to work together and communicate how important this issue is; otherwise, there may not be a future for subsequent generations. Until then, we need to take individual action to alleviate this situation. Regardless of your individuality, race, gender, and age, climate change cannot and will not be fully rectified until everyone cooperates.

      Speaking of which, Avarind, you also mentioned that the person’s race and culture do not matter, as long as they contribute. I completely agree with this. Racial injustice continues to exist, dividing others, but we can all agree that changing climate concerns is a shared objective. Individuals working to solve climate issues will have a positive impact in the long run. We are slowly but unquestionably working towards a common goal.

  4. Climate change is a problem that transcends borders and could potentially be the final extinction event that wipes all life off the face of our planet. After decades of environmental neglect, the burden of “fixing” planet Earth now falls on the shoulders of Gen-Z. As heroic as this sounds, how true is this statement? According to many young climate activists, Gen-Z is leading the charge when it comes to advocating for better environmental policy. I’m proud to admit that I am a part of Gen-Z and that I love to recycle all the plastic bottles that I use. But my contributions are certainly not enough. I’m inspired by Andrew Yu’s passion for generating more interest in climate careers among students, but I can’t help wondering how sustainable these careers are. We currently live in a society where most government and corporate positions are held by members of Gen-X, who are far less concerned about climate change than millennials and Gen-Z. Jon D. Miller, the author of “The Generational X Report”, found that Gen-X’s concern for climate change in 2011 was only 16%, down from 22% in 2009. I find it difficult to accept the current state of climate change activism as a success story; it is critical that we convince the older generations if we want to make any real progress in our time.

  5. Bringing in more people into climate action through climate careers is in fact a really great intuition, however there’s a method that draws people’s attention effectively this could also put climate change careers in spotlight in certain communities and this is sentiment, as an Indian it is clear to me, with the patriotism that is present here, people are frightfully passionate about things they love. With the help of psychology and sentiment we can convince people (through social media, daily news and other things individuals use or see in a daily basis) to make minor changes in their lives, which will all add up and have a positive impact towards climate change. goals.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *